David’s own backstory makes a lot more sense once you realize the full extent of his plans for Ellie. “I’ve always had a violent heart, and I struggled with it for a long time,” he tells his captive, “but then the world ended and I was shown the truth.” Through a few subtext-heavy lines, we get the sense that David was drawn to groups of people he could control even before the world ended. But he was a relative nobody back then, and in Silver Lake, with mouths to feed, he gets the chance to become somebody. It’s an opportunity to don the costume of a male authority figure who’s even more esteemed than a teacher: a religious leader.
Patriarchal violence certainly includes that of the uber-violent, misguidedly protective dad, like Joel, but it also has a more structured and insidious underbelly. David’s is a methodical, stomach-churning violence that comes via participating in a corruptible, male-dominated institution that lends one man power over many young people. Larry Nassar, Harvey Weinstein, priests in the Catholic church: the list of men who abuse their positions of trust, power, and perceived expertise goes on and on.